Venue: New Theatre (Newtown NSW), Jun 9 – Jul 11, 2015
Playwrights: Frances Goodrich, Albert Hackett
Director: Sam Thomas
Cast: James Bean, Caroline Levien, Rowena McNicol, Jessie Miles, Jodine Muir, Martin Portus, Martin Searles, Geoff Sirmai, Justina Ward, David Wiernik
Photography © Matthias Engesser
Based on Anne Frank’s The Diary Of A Young Girl, this classic play by Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett premiered 1955 in New York City. It is classic in structure and subject matter, with characters and a narrative that follows all the rules of conventional drama. Even though the work is based entirely on true events, the script is filled with elements that ensure a theatricality that writers of fiction can scarcely dream up. Anne Frank’s story is a significant part of our literary and social history, and although not particularly groundbreaking or trendy by today’s expectations, its resonances are intense and undeniable.
Direction by Sam Thomas is nuanced and sensitive, but also exuberantly dynamic. She has created a rare cohesiveness in a cast that is unified by a vision and tone that aims to tell Anne Frank’s story with clarity and a lot of heart. Thomas’ measured approach is quiet, and her hand is an invisible one. Front and centre are not the egos of artists, but the tragedy of WWII and a young girl’s experiences and understanding of it. All the cruelty and savagery of war, and the catastrophic debasement of Jewish peoples are presented powerfully, with a formidable tension that builds gently and gradually through accomplished design work from all aspects, most notably Heidi Brosnan’s lights and James Ackland’s sound. Costume by Famke Visser, and Allan Walpole’s set both contribute effective and elegant solutions to the expression of time and space, quickly drawing us into life in the now legendary attic in Amsterdam.
All 10 actors involved are perfectly cast, each with an individually memorable presence and all creating poignancy from different perspectives. The chemistry on stage is effortless but unmissable, and we never question the authenticity of their very close relationships. In the role of Anne is Justina Ward, who never quite looks thirteen years-old, but who has us firmly in the palm of her hand, delighting us with an animated personality and a precisely studied interpretation of Anne’s psychological and emotional evolution over the two years. Palpable, joyful and thoroughly adorable, Ward’s work as leading lady in The Diary Of Anne Frank is quite the revelation.
The problem with old stories is that we dismiss them as stale, forgetting what it is that makes them persevere. Sam Thomas and her team have well and truly dusted off every cobweb and revealed afresh, a tale of humanity and hope, that will touch even the hardest of hearts. The work moves us by appealing to our common benevolence, but is never overly sentimental. The characters are simply realistic and genuine, so we cannot see them as anything but our sisters and brothers. The memory of Anne lives on because our belief in justice never fades, and the need to uphold it in our societies never diminishes. The fallibility of human nature means that different groups are persecuted at different times, but there is also a determination in us all that want to do right, and it is to that spirit that this play speaks.